Nearly everyone in the region is affected by the caliber of the area’s school systems, according to a study released Thursday.
The study from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies reports that there is a connection between education and the area’s economy and quality of life.
“It is important to think about these issues at a regional level,” Ochs Center President David Eichenthal said Thursday. “The public understands the clear connection between the economics of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, the larger metro region and the quality of public schools.”
For the report, officials surveyed 1,000 Hamilton County residents, many of whom do not have students in public schools but still said education is a top-priority issue.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales agreed that quality education is the foundation for economic growth.
But in more rural areas, not all residents feel such a link to public schools, and if they do not have children in school, they don’t want to support the system financially, Sequatchie County Superintendent Johnny Cordell said.
“Especially in rural areas, we have people that do not have children in school and they feel like they do not have a connection,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is: Somebody paid taxes for me to go to school.”
location and poverty matters
The report also found a correlation between economically disadvantaged students and lower achievement. Economically disadvantaged students scored below proficiency levels at a rate more than four times higher than those without such disadvantages in Hamilton County, according to the report.
School officials in the region said they’re working to close the achievement gap based on economic status.
This is the first year that counties outside Hamilton County were included in the report, and Mr. Eichenthal said it is important to take into consideration the quality of education in the entire region.
“Where you live matters, and your economic circumstances matter,” he said. “It is not just about how an individual family is doing, but about concentrations of poverty and low-income levels across the region.”
The report also stresses the importance of school attendance, Mr. Eichenthal said.
According to the report, in some areas of Hamilton County, about 40 percent of students missed 13 days of school. Area educators agreed students can’t learn if they don’t come to class — and although some said it seems obvious — attendance rates need improvement.
Earlier in the year, school officials held meetings with parents to address attendance issues in Hamilton County. Dr. Scales said Thursday that a heightened awareness among school faculty is increasing attendance rates, although he noted that flu season is coming, which could hinder the progress.
Catoosa County Superintendent Denia Reese said her system devotes a lot of energy to making sure students are present. In 2006-07, 92.2 percent of Catoosa students missed fewer than 15 days of school, she said.
“We have been fortunate to have support from the community and business partners to provide incentives to encourage students to come to school,” she said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Cordell said Sequatchie County meets the state’s attendance standards, but the flu can be a devastating hardship in his area.